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How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upset the New Orleans Saints to advance to the N.F.C. championship game.

  • January 18, 2021
ImageSaints quarterback Drew Brees congratulated Tom Brady of the Buccaneers after Tampa Bay’s win Sunday.
Credit…Butch Dill/Associated Press

If this was Drew Brees’s last game, it was one to forget. Brees, the Saints quarterback who has hinted that he may retire after 20 years in the league, was picked off three times, which his counterpart, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, converted into 17 points.

Those points helped the Buccaneers beat the Saints, 30-20, in New Orleans. Brady and the Buccaneers will now travel to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the N.FC. championship game next Sunday.

“Two road playoff wins is sweet,” Brady said after the game, referring to the Buccaneers’ win over Washington last week. “We’re going to have to play great to beat” Rodgers next week, he added.

If Brees retires, it will spell the end of a long and fruitful relationship with Coach Sean Payton, who helped the Saints franchise secure its only Super Bowl title in the 2009 season. As Brees left the field after the game, he blew kisses to fans in the stands.

Brady, meanwhile, heads to his 14th conference title game, and his first in the N.F.C. with Buccaneers, which he joined in the off-season after two decades with the New England Patriots. This season, he led Tampa Bay to an 11-5 regular season record, the franchise’s most wins since 2005. The Buccaneers returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season, and won their first playoff game since the 2002 season, when they won their only Super Bowl championship in their 45-year history.

The game was billed as a showdown of two of the most prolific quarterbacks in league history. Brady, 43, and Brees, 42, have been faces of the league for almost two decades and were the oldest opposing starting quarterbacks to meet in a playoff game at a combined 85 years, 169 days old.

For all their success, though, the game was dominated by the running attack, turnovers and a few trick plays. The Saints capitalized on a 54-yard punt return by Deonte Harris on their first possession.

Later in the first half, Brees sat out a play while his backup, Jameis Winston, lined up as a wide receiver. Saints running back Alvin Kamara took the snap in the wildcat formation, tossed the ball to receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who flipped it to Winston. Winston launched a deep ball to receiver Tre’Quan Smith for a 56-yard touchdown.

Brees, who is the N.F.L.’s career passing yardage leader, never seemed to get on track. He was 19 of 34 passing for 134 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Saints tight end Jared Cook also lost a fumble that the Buccaneers’ offense turned into a touchdown.

“Defensively, we’ve had some rough spots at times, but we’ve had some really, really good times, and this is one of the best times,” Bruce Arians, the Buccaneers head coach, said after the game.

Brady, who was 18 of 33 for 199 yards and two touchdown passes, converted those interceptions into scores, including a 1-yard touchdown run. Brady completed just one pass of more than 25 yards. It wasn’t pretty, but as Brady has learned over the years, style points don’t matter in the playoffs, only wins.

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